Several years ago, researchers at Washington State University sent out a survey to freshmen, asking for their views on sexual assault. In the same survey, they asked the students which crime shows they watched on TV.
Their findings, published in 2015, indicated that for many students, “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” may have provided an education of its own. The survey found that the NBC show had an overall positive effect on students’ understanding of consent and sexual assault — issues that universities have grappled with for years.
Students who watched the show were less likely to buy into rape myths, more likely to adhere to their partner’s decision about whether to have sex, and more likely to say no themselves to sexual activity they did not want.
Now, the show’s creators, Dick Wolf and Warren Leight, are taking on another topic that’s plucked from the headlines. “Law & Order: Hate Crimes” will air on NBC at a yet-to-be-determined date, the network announced last week.
In a statement, Wolf credited “SVU” for starting conversations about rape and sexual assault, and expressed hope that the spinoff would have a similar effect.
“Twenty years ago when ‘SVU’ began, very few people felt comfortable coming forward and reporting these crimes,” he said, “but when you bring the stories into people’s living rooms — with characters as empathetic as Olivia Benson — a real dialogue can begin. That’s what I hope we can do with this new show in a world where hate crimes have reached an egregious level.”
In a statement to the Hollywood Reporter, Lisa Katz, co-president of scripted programming at NBC Entertainment, called the spinoff timely, “considering that last year there was a double-digit rise in hate crimes in our 10 largest cities.”
A report released in May by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University at San Bernardino found a 12 percent increase in hate crimes reported in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Phoenix, Philadelphia, San Antonio, San Diego, Dallas, and San Jose between 2016 and 2017.
In both 2015 and 2016, the FBI saw an increase in the number of hate crimes reported to law enforcement, with a significant uptick in the number of incidents targeting Jews, Muslims, and the LGBT community.
Because submitting data on hate crimes to the FBI is entirely voluntary for police departments, however, those numbers don’t present a full picture of the extent of bias crimes taking place nationwide. Several states don’t even have hate crime statutes in place.
The series, built around “an elite, specially trained team of investigators,” will be based on the New York Police Department’s Hate Crimes Task Force, one of the nation’s oldest.
The spinoff has already faced some pre-emptive criticism, based on the assumption that minorities who are already underrepresented in television will be cast in a “victim” role.
“Why would I watch a fictitious show when I can turn on my ... tv every day and see it in reality!?!” wrote one Twitter user.
Die-hard SVU fans, on the other hand, are thrilled to be getting even more “Law & Order” episodes to binge-watch. The Hollywood Reporter speculates that it will most likely premiere “sometime in 2019.”
NBC has made a 13-episode commitment to the new series, which will be introduced to viewers during an episode of SVU’s upcoming 20th season.